Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1994

Ed Wood

“The pure horror, it both repels, and attracts them, because in their collective unconsciousness, they have the agony of childbirth. The blood. The blood is horror.”

“Are you people insane? I'm the director. I make the casting decisions around here.”
1994 was a year of some controversy with Forrest Gump taking several Academy Awards over Pulp Fiction. And though it didn’t do well at the box office, The Shawshank Redemption has achieved the status as one of the top movies of all-time (at least according to the frequenters of Of course, none of that matters to me. Gump and Redemption are good enough, but I kind of hate Pulp Fiction and Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs is good, though).

There aren’t a lot of films that I feel particularly strongly about in ’94, though there are some undeniable good times. Dumb and Dumber is one of the great stupid comedies of all-time (and everyone should check out The Brothers Solomon if they like it). True Lies is a shockingly good time. Shocking because I’m not a big fan of action movies. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare sets the stage for the meta-horror boom to come with Scream and others. And the Coen’s released their underrated comedy (seriously, how many of their films are underrated?), The Hudsucker Proxy, which probably put people off because of its bizarre title.
But Ed Wood is above and beyond everything else this year. It’s Tim Burton’s passion project and captured gloriously in black and white. More films today need to be shot in black and white. It looks so crisp and since we understand and respect film preservation better these days, the films will always look great. They are just so elegant and timeless.

Burton nails everything about why people love Ed Wood. He convincingly recreates the sets and experience of Wood’s films, though the acting may be a little too good. Of course, with a cast this great, it’s nearly impossible to act down that far. Like the best Burton, is infused with his trademark style and emotion. Unfortunately, Danny Elfman isn’t along for the ride this time. Not to knock Howard Shore’s score, but Elfman and Burton are made for each other.
What really connects with Ed Wood is that it’s a film about the love of making movies no matter what anyone else says. It gives any aspiring filmmakers hope that not only can they make movies, but they can certainly make films more competent than Ed Wood. Woods’ films are largely a joke, but he had a vision, if not the means, and in the end, that’s an inspiration for everyone.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1993

The Nightmare Before Christmas

“You know, I think this Christmas thing is not as tricky as it seems! But why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone! Not anyone, in fact, but me! Why, I could make a Christmas tree! And there's not a reason I can find, I couldn't have a Christmastime! I bet I could improve it, too! And that's exactly what I'll do!”

“Jack, please, I'm only an elected official here, I can't make decisions by myself!”

Yet another Christmas movie with the top spot. And another musical, too. If I’m not careful, people are going to start thinking that I actually love musicals. I’ll nip that rumor in the bud right now. I don’t. I’m just a huge fan of Danny Elfman. All of his best work scoring movies has been with Tim Burton (who only has story/characters and producing credit on this film). The songs are funny, dark, whimsical, and catchy. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that if one is a fan of a musical, that person has the songs memorized, and I’m no exception.
’93 was an incredibly fun year for movies. Bill Murray’s great romantic comedy, Groundhog Day came out and became an instant classic. The third film of the Evil Dead trilogy, Army of Darkness failed at the box office, but continued the cult (and featured a musical contribution from Danny Elfman). Peter Jackson released what is considered to be one of the goriest films of all-time: the hilariously over the top Dead-Alive. And Steven Spielberg released Jurassic Park, one of the few films of his that I actively enjoy. Some pretty great times at the movies.

I don’t remember a bunch of hoopla over Nightmare upon its release. I saw it with a friend and my dad in a relatively empty theater. My friend and I spoke of the film in later years expressing a great deal of surprise about the lack of interest in it (something I did with Burton’s Mars Attacks! as well). Apparently, it was critically appreciated and did pretty well at the box office. I guess just not among my peers. I feel I was predisposed to like this film, again at the influence of my dad, whose love of the Claymation Christmas special gave me an appreciation for stop-motion animation (cooler types would claim Ray Harryhausen as their icon of stop-motion).
Nightmare is just so well-imagined and conceived that I was pretty stunned the first time I saw it. I was in awe that they could make Zero not only fly, but transparent too. The sets are amazing and the characters unique and scary in a cute way. My appreciation for the work increased ten-fold when I got to see the sets and characters in person at Universal Studios.

I love that the story paints the Halloween-world residents good-hearted, but with a different life perspective. They don’t want to do harm with their version of Christmas, but frightening people is just in their nature. They don’t understand any other way. It’s this child-like naiveté that makes the bulk of the film so appealing. Unlike with other musicals, the music and choreography never feels indulgent or that it slows the forward movement of the film. Perhaps that’s because there aren’t any huge dance numbers. There is hardly enough of a break from the endless onslaught of lyrics for that anyway (and who wants to see a bunch of plastic dance, anyway?).
And I’m sorry, but how did this not have a song up for an Oscar. I’m fine with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen’s contributions, but Sleepless in Seattle and Beethoven’s 2nd(?!) both had songs nominated. I call bullshit.

Sadly, the Hot Topic crowd, most of who are barely old enough to have seen it upon its initial release, has hijacked Nightmare. But, everyone needs to dote upon something and at least they like something that is actually good. And on the plus side, there are all sorts of cool toys to be had (of which I have none, but I still dig them).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1992

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Rizzo the Rat: How do you know what Scrooge is doing'? We're down here and he's up there.
Gonzo: I told you, storytellers are omniscient; I know everything!
Rizzo the Rat: Hoity-toity, Mr. Godlike Smarty-Pants.
I would be kicked out of my family if any other film filled this spot. Everybody has that one film they watch tirelessly around Christmas (aside from the 24 hour A Christmas Story marathon). The Muppet Christmas Carol is that for my family. It helps that the Muppets have been an ever-present force for in my family long before I was born. In fact, the two things I can’t imagine having grown up without are Peanuts and the Muppets.

It goes to show how much a love of the Christmas season has been ingrained in me, what with this is being second A Christmas Carol adaptation to appear in the top spot (it’s starting to sound like my childhood was nothing but my parents brainwashing me into liking what they like). It’s no wonder that I was able to give a 6th grade report of the Dickens’ classic without having ever read the book (I nailed it, incidentally). I’m starting to see numerous connections between my favorite films, as well. The aforementioned adaptations. Tim Burton was a puppeteer for The Muppet Movie. He is a director with a distinctive vision and style, much like Terry Gilliam. It’s like playing Six Degrees of my Favorite Movies.
I find that people either fall into two categories regarding Muppet Christmas Carol (observations validated at past year’s Christmas party): you haven’t seen the movie, or you love the movie. And there is little not to love. As a unrepentant hater of most musicals, I fully give myself over to this film. Only one song doesn’t work (the dreadful “When Love Is Gone,” which my family always skips). The rest are insanely catchy with great lyrics… and they’re sung by MUPPETS! It astounds me that not one of the songs was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar. Their bad luck for coming out in the year of Aladdin and The Bodyguard.

Michael Caine makes a fantastic Scrooge because he convincingly looks black-hearted when he needs to, but seems genuinely like the nicest man on Earth otherwise. He will always be Scrooge in my mind. And he seems to thoroughly enjoy working with Muppets. Having Gonzo narrate as “Charles Dickens” with Rizzo the Rat (I have a dog named after him) allows the story to step back for bizarre humor and some meta-commentary. Fun times, that. It’s nice to see smaller Muppet players pop up (Sam Eagle, Bunsen and Beaker, who have a fantastic song cut, but it’s on the soundtrack) and Statler and Waldorf do more than just yell stuff from the balcony, though they do that, too.

I acknowledge that Muppet Christmas Carol wouldn’t top most lists. For one, Unforgiven was released in ’92. But this one is purely sentimental for me. Ever since 1993, my family has listened to the soundtrack while going to pick up our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. It’s not just a movie. It’s tradition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1991

Barton Fink

“Look upon me! I'll show you the life of the mind!”

Ah, 1991. The year The Silence of the Lambs owned all at the Oscars. While certainly not my number one film for the year, I have little complaint about its place in history (except that Anthony Hopkins should have been a Supporting Actor, but then Jack Palance would have never won for his portrayal of Curly in City Slickers). I can’t really comment much as to the quality of the Oscar nominees in this year because I still haven’t seen many of them (Thelma and Louise and JFK are on my list). My tastes tended esoteric in ’91. In one of the rare times I’ll list my top ten, they are as follows (going from two to ten):
What About Bob?
The Fisher King (I do love Gilliam)
The Commitments (awesome film about and Irish soul band)
The Double Life of Veronique (stunningly photographed and you’ll fall in love with Irene Jacob instantly)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (many find it doesn’t compare to the play, which I haven’t seen, but Oldman and Roth are great together)
The Silence of the Lambs
Europa Europa
Hot Shots!
Point Break
I’m sort of all over the map, taste-wise. But that’s a good lead-in to Barton Fink. After all, he’s an intellectual writer in touch with the streets who’s asked to write a wrestling picture. What he fails to realize (and it’s not the point of the film, I’m just trying to make a tenuous connection for my transition) is that there is room for both.

What struck me the first time I watched Barton Fink was how deliberate it is. Well, that and how awesome John Goodman is. The film is pretty dull upon first viewing, but something kept me coming back to where I watched it around three times in one year. Maybe it was the imagery of the peeling wallpaper. Or that I still haven’t figured out exactly how body got in bed with Barton. Or that the dialogue is incredibly well-written. Most likely, it was the blazing ending. Regardless, the film grew on me more after each viewing.

Typically, I enjoy the Coen brothers more when they are tackling out-there, quirky comedies. However, if there is one thing you can always count on from them, is that no matter how dark the subject matter, they always infuse their films with a comic streak. Tony Shalhoub owns every seen he is in (at the time I first saw Barton Fink, I only knew Shalhoub from Wings, so imagine my surprise at him A) not having an accent and B) playing this fast talking authority character). John Mahoney is similarly great as the alcoholic writer W.P. Mayhew. Of course, this is the one aspect that the Coen’s almost always get right. I don’t know if anyone casts better than they do. They have their stock people to bring back when needed (Goodman, Steve Buscemi, George Clooney, Ron Polito, etc) and fill in the gaps with amazing character actors. As talented as they are at writing dialogue, when you add in perfect actors, it’s really hard to make a bad film, no matter how inane the plot.
And, as a final note, Barton Fink is named-dropped, with much excitement, in The Simpsons. In the episode “Brother from the Same Planet,” a group of Bart’s school chums invite Bart to sneak into an R-rated movie with them. The film? “Barton Fink! Barton Fink!” (this ranks up there with Nelson’s dismissal of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, “I can think of two things wrong with that title”).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1990

Edward Scissorhands

“Forget about holding her hand, man. Think about the damage he could do to other places.”

“Sweetheart, you can't buy the necessities of life with cookies.”
Finally, out of the ‘80s. Unfortunately, I have more or less the same feelings about the early ‘90s as I do about the ‘80s. What is it about the formative years of my life that cause me to look down on them so? I had a happy childhood. Good friends, good family. I imagine it has to do with my love of oldies through my younger years (which eventually became a love of classic rock in high school). My generation’s culture never really appealed to me, it seems.

First off, I must acknowledge one film or forever feel the wrath of my father. Tremors is number two on my list and is great in so many ways, but just fell short. No hard feelings, dad, I still love you.

Never mind that, though. Onward ho! Tim Burton gets written off, a bit casually, as a stylist only. I wholeheartedly disagree. His films hinge on whether you can make the leap into his fantasy worlds. If you can, they work completely on all levels. His run from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Big Fish is pretty astounding (ignoring Planet of the Apes and acknowledging that his Batman films fall into a nostalgic blind-spot for me, thus covering my ass against friends with whom I’ve argued about the recent Batman films). I’ll even include his shorts Vincent and Frankenweenie in that run. This “Top Films” exercise just now made me realize how much I enjoy filmmakers who create alternate worlds where the fantastic is possible.
Edward Scissorhands is essentially Frankenstein by way of Burton, only Edward gains some level of societal acceptance. That is, until things start to unravel. The film is sad and whimsical. Dark and beautiful. A surreal look at cookie cutter suburban life set to the fantastic music of the frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman. It’s affecting without being overwrought or overbearing.

This marks the first of many collaborations between Burton and Johnny Depp. Thankfully, Depp is, himself, and oddball and willing to take peculiar roles. He has one of the most interesting careers in the history of film and it starts here (he had a few films under his belt, but played fairly familiar characters). We also get to see Anthony Michael Hall shed his dorky image from his John Hughes collaborations to impressive effect (interestingly, he was originally cast in the Matthew Modine role in Full Metal Jacket a few years earlier).
As with most Gilliam films, I struggle to talk about Burton’s movies because they are so visual. Any attempts would ruin the effect, especially if one is expecting something spectacular (which admittedly, one would after I say stuff like that). I haven’t been as happy with Burton’s output lately, but his early work and love of the gothic will always have me coming back for more magic.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1989

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

“And that was only one of the many occasions on which I met my death, an experience which I don't hesitate strongly to recommend.”
Once again, I return to a fantasy world of Terry Gilliam. If anyone has seen the documentary Lost in La Mancha heard many a reference to Munchausen. Much like Gilliam’s Quixote tale, Munchausen had numerous production setbacks and cost overruns. To top it off, studio politics practically buried the film upon its release. A change in the Columbia studio head led Munchausen to be pushed aside because the studio wanted to focus on the new projects, not those of the old regime. Sadly, Gilliam’s brilliant fantasy was one of these films.

Munchausen opened on only 46 screens and didn’t spread to many of the small markets. That’s shocking considering the film cost just over $46 million to make. Needless to say, the film bombed, which is a travesty. I only recently watched the film for the first time upon its DVD release and I only wish I had seen it sooner and in the theater. It’s an epic of beauty, wonder, and imagination.
Nothing else that came out in ’89 makes me feel the same enthusiasm as Munchausen. I don’t have too many complaints about the Oscar nominated films other than they feel so familiar. Stories of inspiration and a Vietnam film. And while I haven’t seen Driving Miss Daisy, I was shocked to discover that it won Best Picture for the year. Not to go on to an Oscar rant, but there was a time when the Best Picture nominees and winners were not only the best, but the most memorable films of the year. With the exception of Field of Dreams (partially because it’s on TV all the time), the rest of the nominees are fairly negligible. That may also be due to the weakness of ’89, in general. Nothing released that year cries out, “classic,” to me at least.

Nothing except Munchausen. From the astounding sets and effects to the huge performances (Oliver Reed is all kinds of incredible). The film is a sensory explosion. My one qualm is Robin Williams (credited as Ray D. Tutto). I’m not a fan of his shtick (though can tolerate it in The Fisher King). Had the part not been cut back, it would have been a reunion of Gilliam and Sean Connery, which would be much preferable. Aside from that (and the gimmick kind of works for the role) the film is a whimsical blast. And if there is one thing I believe about life, is that one must live it with whimsy (I believe more than one thing about life, incidentally). I can’t wait to show the film to my nieces.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1988


“The bitch hit me with a toaster.”

I almost feel bad posting a favorite for this year. It’s not that I don’t have affection for some of the films that came out; I just don’t feel the passion about them like I do in other years. At the very least, the number one film is a clear winner for me in weak years. Any of my top eight films could be at number one depending on my mood, but that’s because the films hover at the same “above average” level.
That said, I thoroughly enjoy many of these movies. Beetlejuice could get by alone on Michael Keaton’s performance (a man who need a comeback better than White Noise), but is enhanced by the whimsical imagination of Tim Burton. Bull Durham is one of the great sports movies ever. I need to spend more time with A Fish Called Wanda, which I could see taking over the number one spot after a few more viewings.

For the first time, there are some films I haven’t seen that could weigh heavily my list upon viewing. The Blob remake, Dead Ringers, Die Hard and Eight Men Out (grouped together because I’ve seen bits and pieces of both on TV), Monkey Shines, The Serpent and the Rainbow (which I rented once, but never watched), and Tapeheads. I guess the reason so many could take a spot in my list shows how lukewarm I am to my ’88 list.

It’s sort of by default that Scrooged is on top now. I’m just going with what I initially put as number one given my indifference to the order of my top ten (interestingly, it’s not the only reworking of Dickens’ classic that will be written about in this space). But Scrooged does have a lot of good qualities, beginning with Bill Murray’s performance. His skill at delivering sarcastic one liners translates perfectly to playing a douchebag because no matter how awful he is, the audience always kind of likes him (much like audiences couldn’t hate Paul Newman’s Hud in the film of the same name).
The films also scores points by wrapping a bit of satire of the television industry in with the A Christmas Carol story (the studio owner puts mice in the broadcast to try to gain the feline demographic). The film is surprisingly affective, too. There is legitimate sadness at times and Bill Murray’s face is built for melancholy anyway. True to the Christmas Carol tradition, the final spirit is terrifying as ever. Actually, this is the most terrifying final spirit yet on film (something bizarre lurks under the cloak). I could do with toning down Carol Kane’s shtick, but that’s about my only complaint.

Perhaps another reason I have it at number one is to give it a fair shake. shows that the “top critics” average a 17% fresh rating. The film is much better than that. I believe it has since been elevated in the public’s eyes a bit, but I’m still going to fight for the underdog. And no matter how cheesy the sing-a-long of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” at the end is, I can’t help but enjoy Murray’s vamping over it. It’s a fun movie, and that’s all it needs to be.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1987

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn

“We just cut up our girlfriend with a chainsaw. Does that sound ‘fine’?”

“Then let's head on down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch.”

“Someone's in my fruit cellar! Someone with a fresh soooul!”
Ahhhhh… back to my comfort zone. Take everything I said about Evil Dead and apply it here. Only apply it liberally, because I like Evil Dead II better than the first. This film solidified Bruce Campbell as one of the best physical comedians of our time. To watch him go head-to-hand with his possessed appendage is bliss. Sam Raimi pushed up the slapstick while maintaining the (discolored) gore and mayhem of the first. The film works on an entirely different level that the first, sacrificing scares for balls out insanity.

Campbell owns EDII. A combination remake/sequel, the film gives Campbell ample alone time in the cabin to play with the props: a severed head, a chainsaw, a severed hand, a headless puppet with a chainsaw, it’s all classic. Instead of being a wimp like he is in the first film, Campbell makes the transition to badass with surprising engineer skills. He even gets to be a Deadite!
The Evil Dead films are the epitome of laughable (intentional and accidental) horror, but made with such obsessive craft that you can’t help but admire them. No one involved takes the films remotely seriously, which makes it a treat to listen to the commentaries on the DVDs. Again, I can’t express how much these films influenced my appreciation of the horror genre. I don’t want to inundate you with all of the intricacies of the film. Those of us who love the films know them all already.

But ’87 was kind of an awesome year for movies, so I need to acknowledge the fallen. Firstly, Monster Squad which also ended with a vortex to another world. How is it that two movies in the same year used the same esoteric effect? But the rest of my top films are as follows: The Princess Bride, Full Metal Jacket, My Life as a Dog, Raising Arizona, Withnail and I, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Robocop, Prince of Darkness. Holy shit! That’s an epic line up alone. Anyone of those has a strong chance at the top spot in other years (easily for ’88).
It’s no surprise that EDII takes the top spot. Comedy and horror are what I love most. Combine the two effectively and you have gold. Combine the two effectively and intend to do so, then you have super-gold plus one. I can’t express enough how criminal it is that Bruce Campbell has not achieved a mainstream film career. I am going to resist the cliché quote from the film, because you all thought it the minute you read the title. Because you already knew…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1986


"Me, I don't need this shit. I am reality."

"What happened today was just the beginning. We're gonna lose this war. "

So this is really a no-brainer. When I was in high school, I was fascinated by the Vietnam War (Conflict? has that issue been solved?). I watched all of the films on the subject I could get my hands on. Oddly, I didn’t fell the need to read up on the subject. Films would do just fine and Platoon has always been on the top of that list. Not only on the top of the Vietnam list, but on top of my all-time list, as well.
There isn’t another film that came out in ’86 that compares to it. It’s one of the few times that the Academy Awards and myself will agree on the Best Picture on this list. I don’t want to knock the great, bizarre films that came out this year, though. Critics lambasted The Hitcher, but Rutger Hauer is terrifyingly awesome in it. Aliens gave us reason to hate Paul Reiser long before Mad About You. The Fly, Blue Velvet, Labyrinth, Big Trouble in Little China (which was originally supposed to be a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai), all of these films are classic or near classic. Then there is one of the few musicals I like, Little Shop of Horrors, which features hilarious turns by Bill Murray and Steve Martin. And Steve Martin had Three Amigos come out too! The quality cup runneth over. (As a complete aside, how many realized that Crocodile Dundee was nominated for Best Original Screenplay? I’m blown away!)

But Platoon rises so much higher than those films. The soundtrack is classic. And no one will ever forget the use of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” during which, Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias dies one of cinemas most classic deaths. Elias’ battle with Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) over Private Taylor’s (Charlie Sheen) soul is epic. The Zen master versus the barbarian.
The cast is full of recognizable faces, even if some great actors don’t get much to do. Johnny Depp pops up briefly in an early role and I just learned the horror icon Tony Todd (Candyman) is in a scene, too. Oliver Stone regular John C. McGinley puts in a turn as a sycophantic wimp. Each of the factions exhibit great camaraderie that makes it feel like they really didn’t like the other group.

I’m not really sure how to write in an interesting manner on the film because I’m not used to writing about serious films. This is one of the few times that I have something that isn’t horror or comedy at the top of my list. As far as war movies go, this is perfection. It shows the variety of experience, soldiers, and opinions and what happens when they all come to head in the wrong war.
Up until seeing Platoon, my impression of Berenger was him as the Jake Taylor, the washed up Cleveland Indians catcher in Major League. His performance is far scarier and more menacing than the Vietcong. Much like in real life, Platoon portrays the war with an enemy and the war with ourselves. A pantheon level classic.

The Discussion That Wouldn’t Die: A Step-by-Step of Ty Burr’s Disregard for Slasher Films

After reading Ty Burr’s recent article, “The Genre That Wouldn’t Die,” I felt compelled to comment on it. Here’s a man who fully acknowledges that slasher films are a genre for which he doesn’t care. So why write an article condemning something he knows he doesn’t understand? That would be like me writing about musicals. I don’t like them, by and large, but I understand that many do. That doesn’t make either side right or wrong; we just have different tastes. Fine. Bygones be bygones, etc. Burr apparently doesn’t see it that way, so I’m here to break it down (R.I.P.). My apologies for not being nearly as good as they are. And I’m responding as if I was responding to Burr.

The genre that wouldn't die!
With the remake of 'Friday the 13th,' we consider how far slasher films have come - or fallen

At least we already know where you stand.

The remake of "Friday the 13th" is opening next Friday, which means more nubile counselors at Crystal Lake are going to bite the dust. Unusually, the film will screen for critics; slasher movies almost never do. Why bother, when you know the reviews are going to be savage and your target audience doesn't read them anyway? (A deeper cynic than I would say the horror audience doesn't read, period.)

Really reaching out to the slasher fans with this paragraph. The problem is, the fans of the genre are probably amongst the most knowledgeable of film fans. They know the history of the genre, the significant turns, and watch everything. Fans seek out everything, no matter how low-budget or minute the release.

Let’s not forget that there have been countless books written on the subject. It’s one of the most well-covered genres in film. Methinks the “Ty Burr’s” of the world aren’t writing these books. Perhaps fans???

This suits me fine, though, because I hate the nasty little things. Allow me a confession: Dice-and-slice horror is the one genre this critic simply cannot abide. In college, I walked out of the original "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in a cold sweat. (I saw the whole movie a few years later and had to admit it was a work of scurrilous genius.) I think "Halloween," the 1978 thriller that launched the modern slasher genre, is not a "classic" but a craftsmanlike reduction of Hitchcockian suspense clichés to a depressing nub.

I’m not entirely sure what your examples set out to prove. You seem to respect the former and while writing off Halloween, failing to acknowledge that it (along with help from Psycho and Black Christmas) created a genre! Albeit one you don’t like. Regardless, how many films can claim that? It’s a huge moment in film history.

And while I’m not a fan of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (I find it obnoxious and too loud by about ten), neither film you mention is remotely gory. Suggestive, yes, but there is barely any blood in either. The fact that TCM is remembered as being one of the goriest films ever is a testament to how effective the filmmaking is.

I've seen "Scream" (1996) and I've seen "Saw" (2004), and I know they're the same old eek-eek-eek gussied up with one good idea (self-aware parody and claustrophobic threat, respectively) that is then beaten into market complacency by sequel after sausage-like sequel. I can find no excuse for the career of Eli Roth.

Saw is not a slasher film.

Eli Roth had nothing to do with either of those films. Why bring him up? And while I don’t care for his films, he certainly has a sense of humor and history.

Again, writing off another slasher classic in Scream. I’ll talk about his fallacy in this a little later, but Scream still holds up today and practically ushered in the “meta” world we now live in. I’m not saying he has to like it, but he should understand its significance.

It's true that every reviewer has his or her blind spots - one woman I know is so attuned to perceived anti-feminism in the films she covers that she was unable to give "Fight Club" a fair shake - and that it's up to each writer to be aware of those blind spots. And it's not like the critical community has ever been kind to the gore genre. Reviewers generally look on film as a form of art or entertainment. Slasher movies, by contrast are pure function: They exist to bypass reason and pump adrenaline by any and all means necessary. They also allow socially acceptable date-clutching; no small thing. (Oh, and another reason there are so many of them: They're extremely cheap to make and thus profitable.)

I fail to see how “exist[ing] to bypass reason and pump adrenaline” is mutually exclusive from slashers being entertainment or art. I’ll agree, more so the former, but they are meant to be fun!
All accepted, and anyway, a professional reviewer covering mainstream film has to be a generalist - that's the reality of the game. We're paid to comment knowledgably on every kind of movie, which means we have to see, and have the critical tools to appreciate, every kind of movie. We consciously set aside preconceptions when the lights go down, and we let the film work up (or down) to the limits of its kind. That doesn't mean all movies are equal but, for better and for worse, all movies have an audience they're trying to appeal to, and that audience deserves to know whether the movie in question works.

And yet, this article is showing that you can’t comment knowledgeably on the slasher genre. The title alone shows a complete disrespect for the audience they are trying to appeal to. Mr. Burr, you have just admitted to failing to fulfill your job requirements. I hope to see your resignation soon (not really, you can just hand it to your boss [OK, I don’t want you to quit, just stop being stupid]).

Yet when watching a film like last year's "Mirrors," in which actress Amy Smart slowly rips her jaw off her face in loving and bloody close-up, I have to ask: Who is the audience for this? And what are they getting out of it? I personally know more than a few gorehounds; they love movies and can be perfectly articulate about why, but when I press them on how watching a character being put through physical agony can be categorized as entertainment, their arguments invariably boil down to "I like it."

First of all, no one said they like Mirrors. You just made that up.

Secondly, us “gorehounds” can express quite clearly why we enjoy Slasher films. Perhaps you’re being a bit reductive in your evaluation of their arguments.

In response, my argument boils down to "I don't." I don't find it enjoyable on any level to see a human being, even a fictional stupid one, writhe solely for my viewing pleasure. I find the equation of sex and death that's a founding pillar of slashers - the slut-gets-killed/virgin-gets-away trope - to be reactionary and boneheaded. (There are those who say this reflects adolescent sexual anxieties; I say it fuses pleasure and pain in profoundly confusing ways.) I think the genre exists primarily as a market-approved forum for torturing women and girls.

So you’ve never heard of sado-masochism? Or maybe you’re just confused by your own sexual desires.

There are many books written on the topic, most notably Men, Women, and Chainsaws. It’s far more complex than your simplistic evaluation. And if you knew much about the genre history, conventions were established, then dismantled. It’s not just “slut-gets-killed/virgin-get-away.” It’s also important to think of the culture in which these films are produced. That influences the content of any film, not just Slashers.

None of this is new, obviously, despite the handwringing of cultural commentators and other pantywaists (guilty as charged). Human beings have treated dismemberment as sport for millennia, from the Colosseum entertainments through public executions and up to the "Faces of Death" videos. Despite civilized protests to the contrary, we're a species that adores violence, especially when it happens to other people. We're wired for it, but I have yet to hear a reasonable defense for it. Perhaps it's that our bloodlust pre-dates speech. Maybe watching people die just makes us feel alive, however briefly.

You spelled “Coliseum” wrong.

Painting those of us who enjoy slasher films as uncivilized (and I don’t think I’m reading too deeply into your words) is just as ridiculous as saying atheists are immoral.

An interesting comparison to slasher films for me is slap-stick comedy. While I have no idea of Burr’s opinions on slap-stick, I should have to think they are far milder than his slasher opinions. But it seems to me that most slashers have a healthy sense of humor and are really slap-stick with the “real” repercussions (I know they aren’t real, but getting it in the head with a steel pipe with no wound is even less real).

And maybe I'm being a hypocrite here, since there are some pretty disgusting movies I find worthwhile, even entertaining. The difference, I suppose, is that there has to be an idea or a sensibility somewhere in there for me to make the leap. "Re-Animator," Stuart Gordon's 1985 grand guignol gorefest, pushes the envelope of the genre with astounding high spirits and subversive kink; Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead II" (1987) fuses zombie mayhem with unexpected slapstick; both are the work of smart, witty moviemakers. "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" (1990), for all its grisly violence, works because its observant coldness is the opposite of exploitation.

Either you’re being a hypocrite or you aren’t watching slasher films with the same care as these non-slasher examples. I would say, with the exception of most studio-produced horror, those making horror films all have the spirit and sensibility for which you are looking. Only fans of the genre work in the genre. They know what’s been done and try to top what has already come. However, low-budgets often thwart their efforts (that and bad acting/filmmaking).

What’s fun about horror in general is that it’s the only genre where the awfulness of a film can enhance the film. No other genre is as fun to mock with a bunch of friends drinking beer.

Tarantino? Again, his sense of humor and his craft give him a pass for me, although I still think the ear-cutting scene in "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) unalloyed prurience. I'll give you England's "The Descent" (2005) - just barely - on the strength of its suspense and decently-realized characters and Japan's "Audition" (1999) on the strength of director Takashi Miike's pure weirdness.

I don’t understand why you’re trying to build credibility here. We get it. You’re a film reviewer. Probably seen thousands of films. I’m sure there are horror movies you like. Stop bringing them up unless they apply to your argument (like, say, a slasher movie that you like).

That I find so little worthwhile in American horror movies of the last 20 years, though, indicates A) that I'm probably getting too old for this, and/or B) that the genre as purveyed by US filmmakers has become locked into a feedback loop in which the clichés remain the same but the bloodletting, by commercial and psychological necessity, only heads upward. Audiences go to "Saw IV" (2007) or "Turistas" (2006) to feel scared - to feel anything, really - but as the pop-culture scar tissue builds up from three decades of post-"Halloween" slashers, each movie needs to cut deeper to strike a nerve.

Earlier, you mentioned distaste for Scream, yet here you say the clichés remain the same. Scream represents exactly what you are looking for, and it’s not the only film that has toyed with the genre in “the last 20 years.” Now, you cannot like Scream for other reasons, but you can’t write it off. Most interestingly, Scream is probably on of the only film that demanded at least one sequel, because otherwise, it would be an incomplete dissection of the genre.

Using Saw IV and Turistas as examples is simply ignorant. Horror fans don’t like these movies. If anyone is going to see these films, it’s the general public. Horror films are more critical of the films in the genre than you will ever be. The benefit of being a horror fan is that even the detritus can be fun. We can acknowledge and embrace a bad horror film’s schlockiness, as I’ve mentioned. So when you insult the intelligence of the horror audience in the first paragraph, you misspoke. It’s not us giving these crappy films money, it’s the 14-18 year-old non-discerning film fan. I will accept an apology now.

That's why hipster Hollywood filmmakers have lately been remaking Japanese horror movies ("The Ring," "One Missed Call," et al), and that's why they're remaking the slashers of the first generation: They hope to get under our skin faster. A new "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" came out in 2003, "When a Stranger Calls" and "The Hills Have Eyes" in 2006, "Halloween" in 2007, "Prom Night" last year, "My Bloody Valentine" last month, now "Friday the 13th" - not a sequel and not even a remake but a reboot. Admittedly, these are almost always better-made movies than the originals; the 1980 "Friday" looks like a late-'70s porn film precisely because that's what director Sean S. Cunningham was making before he tried his hand at horror.

What hipsters?

I completely agree with the lack of value in these remakes. They rarely offer anything new to the material. Three points, though:

1) I have yet to see of anything other than major studio productions. This is a big deal, because most of the great horror films of recent years are either foreign or “independent” (in quotes because the word is losing it’s meaning). Halloween is the only one mentioned and it’s the iconic slasher. Burr, you know nothing of horror film.

2) A remake/reboot of a horror franchise where each sequel is essentially a remake of the prior film is not that different from another sequel. I’m not opposed to this, because in these horror films, you go to see the killer kick-ass, not get involved in the story.

3) Several film directors from the 70s got their starts working in the porn industry, not just horror directors. The division between the two was not nearly as great as it is now.

The DVD commentary track for the first "Friday the 13th" is worth a listen, though, if only to hear Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller talk with touching bluntness about their motives. "The most important thing you can do in your film career is make money," says the director, while Miller admits he personally abhors violence and simply screened and copied "Halloween" when writing his script. (Lesson No. 1: "You have sex, you die.") It's a healthy reminder that the majority of slasher movies exist for one reason and one reason only: To shake the change out of a young and bored audience's pockets.

The majority of movies exist to make money. To claim that slasher and horror in general is the main culprit of this is ridiculous. Why is the summer filled with blockbusters? Surely not to add insight into the world.

It may be that my own mistake is expecting movies to be more.

It’s not a mistake to expect something from movies. It’s a mistake to not adjust your outlook to the movie you are going to see. If you expect Friday the 13th to be anything but Jason chasing people around with a machete, then it is entirely your fault for your experience. All genres have films that offer more than just entertainment, but there is nothing wrong with films being just entertainment.

I don’t really have anything against Ty Burr. His end of year top ten is very similar to mine and that he acknowledges the excellent Let the Right One In adds points in his favor. But there is no point for this article to exist. All he needs to say is, “I don’t care for the genre” and no one would care. But instead he insults people who do like it while making himself look foolish for not understanding the fans or the genre.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Mystery of The Last House in the Woods

Most of us know what to expect from low-budget horror movies, especially those that are released straight-to-DVD. Since Netflix makes the expense of renting these films practically negligible, I’ve been watching more than usual, lately, always hoping to find a hidden gem. Unfortunately, they’ve all pretty much busted. Lake Dead had nothing to do with a lake and everything to do with a disturbed family whose surname is “Lake.” Needless to say, I was incredibly disappointed by the lack of aquatic mayhem. Midnight Movie took a great concept (a horror movie killer comes out of the film to terrorize the audience) and completely screws it up. Midnight Meat Train is just stupid.
Being a horror fan, though, I can’t stop watching the genre. I read great things about the Italian film, The Last House in the Woods on, so it was with elevated expectations that I popped the DVD in. The experience was surprising. I can’t recall ever being so confused after a film viewing. Since I’m having trouble coming to terms with my thoughts, I thought I’d work them out here and hopefully someone will watch the film and join in the discussion.

Instantly noticeable is how horrible Last House looks. It’s shot on what has to be the worst HD camera available or the filmmakers have no idea how to use it. At least older crappy horror films look half decent because they were shot on film. Supporting the idea that the filmmakers are lacking in… skill… is that the lighting sucks. I’m not sure they even had lighting setups. A lot of times the film looks like it’s all (poorly) shot in natural light.

Our introduction to the main character (Aurora) has her boyfriend request the continue drawing while he has sex with her. She goes along with this and it’s the last we see of the boyfriend (and no, he doesn’t die, he has nothing to do with anything). Next, she gets into a car with an ex and has sex with him. Last House seems to be trying to buck the trend of the virtuous “survivor girl.” I say “seems” because at this point, I didn’t feel like the filmmakers had any idea what they were doing.
The rest of the cast is introduced shortly after the car sex; a group of Capital City Douchebags pulls up behind them to let a buddy puke. They see the former lovers and decide that the girl needs a good raping and the guy a good thrashing. The Douchebags (to be fair, one of the Douchebags isn’t on board for any of his buddies’ shenanigans) are foiled by a gun-toting passerby and his wife. The Douchebags are sent on their angry way and Aurora and her ex are taken to the titular last house in the woods.

OK, so that’s the setup. Last House is essential, as many have pointed out, a combination of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House on the Left. Nothing much original happens for a while. Most of the plot turns are pretty obvious. The first half of the film feels like the filmmakers were trying to make a serious horror film and failing miserably. I couldn’t tell if I was enjoying the awfulness or not. There are so many bizarre camera moves and zooms that it’s kind of cool and very discombobulating. My mind was reeling. But then something happened. The film became really entertaining and there were signs that the filmmakers weren’t so stupid after all.

The first clue for me was the capacity in which the Douchebags return to the action. The break into the house still feeling a bit rape-y, but quickly change their tunes when they encounter the grisliness within. These characters that the audience has been told to hate are now our only hope for salvation. While the execution is sketchy at best, the idea intrigues me greatly. This isn’t the classic anti-hero scenario where we know from the outset to root for the miscreant like in A Clockwork Orange. Essentially, Last House is asking us to root for the bad guys in The Last House on the Left (hopefully you won’t be confused by the similar titles).
The tone of the film becomes clearer at this point as well, with the wussiest of the Douchebags vomiting on a severed limb. To this point, the score had been unremarkable at best, but suddenly it came to the forefront for me. It was equal parts cheesy and amazing. Part of it is that I love the chord progression used (similar to the one at the end of Sunshine), but mostly it’s the combination of the action onscreen and the music underneath. It hit all the right notes (pun slightly intended) and I didn’t want it to end. I was actively involved in the film within two minutes of the break-in.

Last House plows ahead to a blood-soaked, endlessly enjoyable finish. And the basement houses one of cinema’s greatest surprises. I actually watched the entirety of the credits just to listen to the perplexingly great score. The film has stuck with me far longer than it should have. There are so many facets I need to discuss with the filmmakers. I’ve never had this many questions about a film’s intentions. Please, please, PLEASE see The Last House in the Woods. I need to discuss it and you won’t be disappointed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1985


“Mistakes? We don't make mistakes.”

…And not the piece of shit “Love Conquers All” version, either.

But let’s face it. Yet again, the 80s comes up short in the greatness arena. “Sacrilege!" some will cry. After all, this is the year of Back to the Future! More than just nostalgia, that is a wonderful film. I wouldn’t knock anyone for picking it as the best. And the world got Tim Burton’s first feature in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a gleeful play on Bicycle Thieves and co-written by Phil Hartman. Lots of classic moments, but not enough to push it over the edge.

It could only be Brazil. A brilliantly realized world (one of Gilliam’s specialties) in the era of practical effects. If ever two films exhibited the inadequacies of CGI, one need look no further than Brazil and The Thing. But Brazil is far more than special effects. Gilliam, Tom Stoppard (yes, that Tom Stoppard), and frequent Gilliam collaborator Charles McKeown were nominated for the original screenplay Academy Award (I think I’m required to TM that phrase, but I’m mad at them for rarely reflecting my opinions, so screw it). If you want a reason to be excited for Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, it’s that Parnassus is the first script Gilliam and MeKeown have written together since the infamous and criminally underrated The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.
We don’t really think of Jonathan Pryce as a leading man, but turn as Sam Lowry, the sane man in an insane world, is exactly what the film needs to keep it grounded in reality. The rest of the cast gets to play around in absolutely bizarre roles, led, most surprisingly by Robert De Niro (Harry Tuttle). I would also be remiss if I didn’t include my personal favorite Python, Michael Palin as Jack Lint, who always seems to nail every role, no matter how small.

Brazil represents the epitome of what Gilliam can do. It’s equal parts Orwell and Monty Python (and a smattering of samba), but through Gilliam’s bizarre filter. I think that one of the problems with The Brother’s Grimm is that he was restrained. A film like that needs to feel like it could go off the rails at any time. Gilliam does that better than anyone else at his best (Time Bandits, Munchausen, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). If there is one deficiency with Brazil, it’s that I haven’t seen it nearly enough.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1984


“Ted! Annette! I'm glad you could come, how you doin', give me your coats. Everybody, this is Ted and Annette Fleming! Ted has a small carpet cleaning business in receivership; Annette's drawing a salary from a deferred bonus from two years ago! They got fifteen thousand left on the house at eight percent. So they're okay! So, does anybody wanna play Parcheesi?”

“Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"!”

Finally, a year with some serious competition for the top spot. My top ten runs out of steam towards the end, but damn! What a top four! All due respect to Gremlins (Joe Dante may be my favorite director of the 80s) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (three and four respectively), the real battle is between Ghostbusters and This Is Spinal Tap (I don’t know how to accurately insert the umlaut over the “n”).

How does one even decide between the better of these films? They are two of the greatest comedies of all time. Both are endlessly quotable and feature some of the best comedic talent of the past 30 years. It’s almost unfair to choose. Hell, one of these films practically invented (or at least perfected) the mockumentary (I’ll leave it to you to guess which one). But choose I must, and as you all can see, I chose Ghostbusters.

My history with Ghostbusters goes back a long way, as it does with most. When I saw it as a child, it scared the crap out of my (though not literally, at least as far as I recollect). That ghost librarian at the beginning is still pretty terrifying (“Are you, Alice, menstruating right now?). I had the toys and watched the show, even the fake “Ghostbusters” that ran around with a gorilla. Pretty much, instead of actually deciding which film to put at number one, I went with nostalgia instead.
This is by far my favorite Bill Murray role. The fact that he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar once again proves that the Academy Awards hate comedy. And let the record show that Pat Morita was nominated for The Karate Kid. Seriously? I know people love that film, but that spot could and should have gone to Murray. On that note, Splash and Beverly Hills Cop got screenwriting nominations. Jebus. I just don’t understand the world.

I honestly can’t think of a thing I would change about Ghostbusters. The characters are so perfectly realized from Ray’s enthusiasm to Egon’s seriousness (and I love when he has to look for his mark in the commercial) to Louis Tully’s hopeless dorkiness. Let’s not forget, everyone’s favorite recurring black cop, one Reginald VelJohnson (Carl Winslow, if you will), shows up in a very bit part AND Ron Jeremy is an extra! And Elmer Bernstein’s score is a thing of beauty with the whimsical piano ditties mixed in with the dark orchestral pieces.
There’s lots of talk of a Ghostbusters 3, and I don’t know how that will turn out, but I do know this, we will always have Ghostbusters. I can’t wait to show my nieces and future kids this film. I could go on forever recounting all that is great about this film, mostly quoting, but I will just leave it with this one last thing: “Go get her, Ray!”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1983

Evil Dead

"We can't bury Shelley! She's a friend of ours!"

This is a bit of a cheat. Evil Dead had its premiere in Michigan in 1981 (IMDB has this as the release date) and made the festival rounds in 1982, but got an actual release in 1983. Another wrench into the mix is that shooting began in 1979. Since I had no chance of seeing it (at least cognitively) in any of those years, the official release year works just fine for my purposes. Plus, ’83 is another year in which I have little affection for the films.

Evil Dead kind of changed my life (or a portion of it) in a dramatic way. I have my cousin, Aaron, and his family to thank for it because they were all such huge fans of the series before I had heard of it. The first time I watched it was after school one day when I was in tenth or eleventh grade. It was broad daylight and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The acting is cheesy in the best possible way, the film has a great sense of humor, and the gore and effects are so over-the-top and crazy that I was in a trance.

One might say that I was obsessed with this film, the sequels, and Bruce Campbell at one point, and that person wouldn’t be wrong. I arranged a number of trilogy screenings, one with commentaries only. I have the Evil Dead Companion book as well as both of Bruce Campbell’s book (everyone should read If Chins Could Kill). I still follow Campbell’s buddy’s, Josh Becker, career via the Q&A on Continually, I upgraded my DVDs to the latest versions (though I haven’t bought the 3-disc Evil Dead, yet). I even went to the off-Broadway production of Evil Dead: The Musical.
While I had stopped being afraid of the horror aisle in Blockbuster long before this, I now sought out other horror movies instead of being interested in mainly comedies. Today, it’s probably my favorite genre. You can turn your mind off and enjoy the cheese (especially with some friends and alcohol, but don’t drink and watch them alone because that’s just sad) or the movie will crawl under your skin and stay with you for a long time. Evil Dead offers both of these. Unlike its sequels, the humor is kept fairly subtle (unless you watch with the commentary on) and the mayhem is amped way up (two words: tree rape).

There are few other films worth mentioning from 1983. Who doesn’t love A Christmas Story? Well, besides the heartless. And I have affection for all things Monty Python, so Meaning of Life is way up there (especially since it was one of the first movies I owned with any nudity in it). Bob and Doug McKenzie’s, née Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’ Strange Brew is a wonderfully bizarre twist on Hamlet and introduced me to the ever-so useful word, “hork.” But this spot can only go to “the ultimate experience in grueling terror,” The Evil Dead for shaping so much of who I am (for better and for worse, but mostly better).
PS – Not every film on this list will be a horror film, just most (that’s only partially a joke).

Top Film for Each Year of My Life – 1982

It occurs to me that my postings tend to be airing of grievances. Since Festivus is a long way off, I felt it best to shake things up and embark upon a frivolous but fun endeavor. What is to follow over the next 26 days (or so… I may post multiple times or skip a day… who knows? Not me) is a list of my favorite film from each year of my life with accompanying explanation and honorable mentions. The bonus of doing this is that I don’t have to think of a new idea to write about nearly an entire month! Obviously, 2009 doesn’t count because it just started, but maybe I’ll have a post for most anticipated.

And I’m not going to do plot recaps, because that’s stupid.

Full disclosure first… I hate the 80s. Of all the decades from 1900 until now, the 80s holds the least amount of interest to me culturally and politically. I made top ten lists for each year of my life (which makes this enterprise that much easier) and I had a hell of a time coming up with ten films in most of the 80s. Because I needed to make it to ten, I have films that I view as marginal as best represented. That said, there are also a bunch of films I haven’t seen that hold some interest to me, but I’m not convinced will crack the top ten. The same holds true for the early to mid-90s, but fortunately, nostalgia really kicks in hard.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning:


John Carpenter’s The Thing

"I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH! "

Unfortunately for me, the year of my birth is wholly uninteresting in regards to film. In my opinion, only two great movies were released this year: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and The Thing. And before people start jumping on my case, Blade Runner and Tootsie are in my top ten; I just don’t regard them as highly as most. And, while I find Spielberg to be an excellent director in regards to visuals and action, I find him to be a simplistic and overly sentimental storyteller. E.T. is not on my list.

The Thing bombed at the box office. However, that’s not entirely fair because it was released just two weeks after the aforementioned cuddly alien juggernaut. How could the nation be expected to go see this intense study of paranoia when E.T. is running around drinking beer and eating Reese’s Pieces?

Everything about The Thing is cold. It takes place in Antarctica, Morricone’s score is minute and dreary, and the characters are beyond unsympathetic. Hell, the film doesn’t even have any women in it! But this outpost is no place for women. Wilford Brimley is on the scene, after all. The fact is, the coldness works for the film. The audience is disengaged from the characters and totally open to the experience.

As I said earlier, it’s all about paranoia and what isolation can do to people. We don’t want to sympathize with anyone because we can’t trust anyone. It’s only natural that we side with Kurt Russell because he’s completely badass in The Thing. When the shit starts hitting the fan, it’s best not to have allegiances. Trust me.

And the special effects hold up better than pretty much any other I’ve ever seen. Practical effects are infinitely superior to CGI when done correctly. Undoubtedly, the prequel being tossed around in Hollywood will go CGI and will pale in comparison to Carpenter’s version.

The influence of The Thing has been pervasive. The X-Files did an entire episode based on it (“Ice”) and The Faculty (1998) mimicked the petri dish scene. It’s truly one of the great horror films of all time. A master of the craft’s best work (in my opinion, of course).

Monday, February 2, 2009

You Are Being Watched

“Did you ever get the feeling you was being watched?” ponders Bugs Bunny (particularly when Marvin the Martian or Gossamer’s mad scientist creator are about). And you know what, Bugs’ instincts are correct. He is being watched (and not just by the viewers at home). How do you think he gets into all of those hare-y situations (I make no apologies for the pun)?

However, we aren’t equipped with the same sensory accessories as this animated rabbit. Sure, there are the times when we feel something is amiss, but that’s generally when the environment is creepy to begin with (though, I guess the same can be said for Bugs, but let’s ignore that). The fact is, someone is almost always watching us and rarely do we know it.

Any time we step into a public arena (so any time we leave our homes), people have an eye on us. Not in the conspiratorial sense, just curious. But then again, who hasn’t walked past a house at night with lights on and taken a quick peak inside (from the sidewalk, of course). Perhaps, if you are like me, you look like a red-colored Chia Pet. Or maybe you’re attractive. You may even subconsciously dance to you iPod (or practice your DJ scratching technique on the subway). Whatever the case, we are being monitored.

I know this because I do it all the time and if I know one thing, it’s that I represent everyone everywhere. I am the everyman (now would be the time to break out your sarcasm detectors). I’ll watch people jogging from the subway car just to see how well they keep pace with it. If there is something unique about you, chances are my eyes will continually drift in your direction. And, looking like a giant fuzzball rests upon my shoulders, I routinely look at people who I think are looking at me. Should I ever talk to one of these possible me-watchers, we’ll instantly have something to talk about: watching those who will never know they are being watched.

The real reason I know I’m not alone in this is because I know people who will go to the mall or a park just to people-watch. It’s like a zoo except the attractions roam free. It’s mildly disconcerting to realize that there are probably hundreds of people a week who take notice of you without engaging in any interaction with you. And if you aren’t slightly uncomfortable about that thought, think about how many complete strangers have your picture in photo albums because you are wandering around the background. God willing, you aren’t doing anything unsavory.

It’s not like this people-watching is doing any good. If we retained the image of the person in our heads, at least we’d know if we ran into them again at some point. I, for one, don’t. The moment they pass from sight, they are forgotten, awaiting someone else to secretly watch them. At least Big Brother can take it easy. We’ve got an eye on things.